A photograph of a bright red Brompton bike against a brick wall, with a small potted bush behind its back wheel.

Photograph by Number 10 on Flickr, made available via CC BY 2.0

Brompton Bicycle doesn’t advertise. The UK’s biggest manufacturer of folding bicycles prefers to rely on word of mouth to spread the message about its brand, in a move that would seem risky to many in the marketing and advertising industry.

But it’s paid off for Brompton Bicycle, whose brand is now a byword for portable bicycles and urban cycling. Since entering full production in 1986, Brompton Bicycle has become a leading international manufacturer of folding bicycles, with three-quarters of its production exported to 42 countries around the world.

As social media is essentially digital word of mouth, it’s no surprise that social networking forms a crucial part of how Brompton Bicycle engages with its international customer base, using competitions, campaigns and events across multiple networks to promote its brand.

A multi-channel approach

Brompton Bicycle has an active presence on three major social networks: Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. One of the cardinal rules of social networking as a brand or publisher is to publish dedicated content for each channel instead of trying to shoehorn the same content into every social network, and Brompton Bicycle’s approach to social networking shows it understands that.

Brompton Bicycle uses Twitter for fast and furious updates and lots of customer interaction. Twitter’s short and sweet format makes it the perfect medium for a quick shout-out, and Brompton Bicycle is often found engaging with happy cycle fans on Twitter.

Twitter is also the ideal channel for posting announcements about contests and events, such as the (Read more...) World Championship and Brompton Urban Challenge – more on how the company ties in its social media coverage with events later on. Brompton Bicycle has strong links with other cycling channels on Twitter, retweeting them and forming partnerships to promote joint ventures.

Over on Facebook, Brompton Bicycle combines more detailed text descriptions with photographs and links to promote Brompton’s projects and media coverage. Facebook’s commenting system, without the constraints of Twitter’s character limit, makes posts more conversation-heavy, and Brompton doesn’t miss out on the opportunity to join in the conversation.

A Facebook comment thread about Brompton's new electric bicycles, in which the brand has replied to almost every comment with dedicated responses and advice.

Brompton Bicycle’s Instagram presence, as would be expected for Instagram, is heavy on aesthetic shots of Brompton merchandise and people out riding Brompton bikes. While there is less discussion on the brand’s Instagram compared with other networks, Brompton makes good use of user-generated content to involve its customers, and often employs Instagram as a platform for competitions.

Aside from these three networks, Brompton Bicycle also has a presence on Pinterest, a platform where it appears to have once been quite active, mainly pinning photographs from various Brompton World Championships in photo album-style Pinboards. However, since the most recent of them dates to 2013, it’s probably safe to assume Brompton isn’t keeping its Pinterest up to date – a shame, since travelling and the outdoors are popular subjects with Pinterest users.

An Instagram post featuring a beautiful night-time shot of a Taj Mahal-style building (the Palace of Justice in Putrajaya), lit up against the night sky, with cars parked on the shining pavement outside it. In the foreground is a striking red Brompton bike with a black bag hanging from its handlebars. The post description reads, "Where did your Brompton take you this weekend?"

User-generated content

Given that Brompton’s marketing strategy is to spread the word through happy customers, it’s no surprise that the company uses plenty of user-generated content, or UGC, on its social media channels.

Its Instagram in particular regularly features shots that Brompton bike owners have taken of their cycles, which helps the company put a human face to its product and show off the many satisfied cyclists that its brand boasts around the world.

As I mentioned, Brompton Bicycle often uses Instagram as a central platform for UGC competitions, as it’s a popular network where most people already have an account, supports both images and video, and the way that the network is designed makes it well-suited to taking part in marketing campaigns.

Just last week, Brompton announced its #MadeForSpring campaign, inviting Brompton bikers to share spring pictures of their bikes for a chance to win a Brompton ‘O’ Bag.

A post from Facebook announcing that Brompton Bicycle will be awarding a Brompton O Bag to its favourite #MadeForSpring photo on Instagram this month. It features a link to find out more and a picture of two young people relaxing on the grass in a park with Brompton Bicycles lying nearby.

And in November, Brompton Bicycle used Instagram as the platform for its #MyUnseenCity short-film competition, aimed at promoting the launch of the Brompton Black Edition and engaging a young audience with its product.

Entrants were invited to create and publish to Instagram a 15-second short film about “a part of your city we haven’t seen” (no bikes required for the film to be eligible), geo-tagging their city and using the hashtag #MyUnseenCity to enter. The competition ran until 31st March (with the winners yet to be announced) and accumulated 1,130 posts for the #MyUnseenCity hashtag on Instagram, with Brompton Bicycle promoting several of the entries on its official channel.

Brompton Bicycle shares an entry to its #MyUnseenCity competition on Instagram. The video thumbnail shows a red fence with large pillars capped with snow, running along the side of a road, with the side of a mint-green building in the foreground and what looks like a white bridge curving away to the left. The post description reads, "We've been blown away by the creativity from the #MyUnseenCity entries so far. Thanks to @ctrl2k for this video from Russia."

Competitions and events

Brompton Bicycle is skilled at tying in its social media activity with cycling-related competitions and events taking place around the world, both its own and others’. This has the benefit of attracting involvement from an enthusiastic international community of cyclists, using the draw of huge established events like Bike to Work Day to promote its brand and encouraging Brompton owners to take part on social media.

For example, on Strava’s (a social network for athletes) Global Cycle to Work Day, Brompton Bicycle encouraged users on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to join the Brompton Club on Strava and share their commute, tagging @BromptonBicycle on social media. Later on Facebook, Brompton shared a dynamic data visualization that Strava had created to map the commutes of everyone across the world who took part in the day.

A Facebook post by Brompton Bicycle sharing an animated data visualisation, which shows a world map marked by blue dots to indicate the start of a commuter's journey on Global Cycle to Work Day. The text reads, "Nearly 80,000 people took part in the Strava Cycling, Global Cycle to Work day on Tuesday. Here's a breakdown of where people cycled from 180 countries across the world. Who cycled with their Brompton?"

Brompton takes every opportunity to promote the cause of cycling in cities, such as promoting the opening of the North-South and East-West Cycle Superhighways in London, and urging Londoners to consider the mayoral candidates’ policies on cycling before casting their vote. This kind of activism helps to further the brand’s image of encouraging healthy living and physical activity, as well as advocating for policies and improvements that will benefit the sale and use of Brompton bikes.

Brompton Bicycle also has an array of its own events that it runs across the world, including the Brompton Urban Challenge, Brompton World Championship, Brompton Maintenance Event, Brompton Luggage Showcase Fashion Show (to tie in with New York Fashion Week) and more. These are always promoted enthusiastically on its social media channels with pictures and videos, and copious retweets or reposts of anyone who is taking part.

Events can be an excellent focal point for getting someone involved with a brand for the first time: for instance, ahead of the Brompton Urban Challenge in London on the 14th May, the Brompton Bike Hire Twitter channel encouraged people to hire a bike and enter. This had the benefit of opening up the challenge beyond those who already owned a Brompton or could afford to buy one, encouraging people new to the brand to try out a Brompton for the first time – which might just result in them coming back to hire again later or purchase their own bike further down the line.

All of these things together help to build a sense of community on Brompton’s social media channels, with enthusiastic cyclists getting involved with short films, photography, events and competitions, all centered around the bike they love. Browsing the different channels, it’s hard not to get caught up in it and want to take part – which is exactly what makes Brompton Bicycle so popular and successful at spreading the word about its brand.

To hear more about how Brompton Bicycle has built its brand while shunning advertising, don’t miss Managing Director Will Butler-Adams speaking at Shift London this Tuesday, 24th May. It’s not too late to register!

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